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  • Internet, News, Security, Telecommunications - Written by on Thursday, June 20, 2013 14:20 - 13 Comments

    Rejected: Labor to block Greens warrants bill


    news The Labor Federal Government has flatly rejected legislation introduced this week that would see Australian law enforcement agencies blocked from obtaining access to telecommunications records without a warrant, stating that such regulations would “critically impede national security and law enforcement investigations”.

    The bill, introduced by Greens Senator and Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam into the Senate this week, would not prevent law enforcement and intelligence agencies from accessing material through telecommunications interception practices in order to carry out their functions; however, it would require that they obtain a warrant from a source such as a member of the judiciary before being able to access such information.

    The Greens have brought the bill as community fears have constantly grown both in Australia and globally over the past several years as a series of leaks and government disclosures have revealed how law enforcement agencies are increasingly using telecommunications interception practices to gather data on residents of their own countries, as well as those overseas.

    The use of this information is currently skyrocketing in such law enforcement organisations. According to the latest Telecommunications Interceptions and Access Act (TIA) annual report, Australian law enforcement agencies were granted access to personal information about Australians 293,501 times throughout the 2011-12 year, without obtaining a warrant or having any judicial oversight.

    In addition, a number of Australian organisations have expressed fears that the US is passing vast amounts of data to Australian law enforcement agencies gleaned through the National Security Agency’s secretive PRISM project, which reportedly has given the agency access to spy on foreign citizen’s data held on the servers of global technology giants such as Microsoft, Google and Apple. Both Ludlam and Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull have demanded answers from the Australian and US Governments on the matter.

    Delimiter has asked both the Coalition and the Government whether either would be supporting Ludlam’s legislation. The Coalition has not yet responded, but a spokesperson for Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus yesterday issued a flat denial that any such support would be forthcoming. “The Government will not be supporting the Bill,” the spokesperson said.

    “The Bill’s requirement for ASIO and law enforcement agencies to get a warrant to obtain telecommunications data would critically impede national security and law enforcement investigations. Currently telecommunications data is obtained under authorisation at a
    preliminary stage of an investigation, often to identify targets as well as excluding persons from the investigation.

    “Requiring a warrant to conduct initial investigations to identify suspects, or to exclude innocent persons, through the use of telecommunications data would be much more onerous and more time consuming, delaying agencies from obtaining warrants to access telecommunications content for an investigation. Under the Bill a warrant would be needed to identify telecommunications data that would then be used to obtain a warrant to access the content of the communications.”

    The spokesperson added that the amendments in the Bill “completely dismantle” recent amendments approved by the Parliament to accede to the Council of Europe’s Cybercrime Convention that allows effective sharing of telecommunications data between Australian agencies and their foreign counterparts. “This would put Australia in breach of its international obligations,” they added.

    In addition, the Attorney-General’s spokesperson stated that Ludlam’s legislation was “inconsistent” in its application of access to telecommunications data by Australian agencies.

    “It would require criminal law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant for access to both prospective and historical telecommunications data for the purpose of investigating criminal offences at a higher threshold than currently applies,” they said. “But it would leave all other enforcement agencies able to access historical telecommunications data for investigating pecuniary penalties and the protection of the public revenue by internal authorisation at the current penalty thresholds.”

    The comments echo sentiments already expressed by Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus on the issue. For example, several weeks ago, Dreyfus made the declaration that Australian law enforcement in Australia “would grind to a halt” if police officers and other law enforcement agents were forced to apply for a warrant every time they wanted to access Australians’ telecommunications data.

    Speaking on the ABC’s 7:30 program at the time, Dreyfus rejected calls for warrants on telecommunications data to be re-introduced. “To require a warrant for every time, and it’s in the thousands, the mini thousands, of times that a law enforcement agency accesses this non contact telecommunications data would mean I think that law enforcement in Australia would grind to a halt,” he said.

    Although some elements of the Coalition, such as Turnbull, have expressed concerns about some planned aspects of the national telecommunications interception regime, such as Labor’s controversial data retention plan, it’s also true that in general, the Coalition has been broadly supporting of enhancing law enforcement access to telecommunications data.

    However, it is not clear that law enforcement agencies would not be able to carry out their duties effectively without warrantless access to certain types of telecommunications data — especially ‘metadata’, meaning data that is not technically the content of communications such as telephone calls and emails, but only the time and length of the communication, as well as the identities of the communicating parties, for example.

    Ludlam has previously pointed out that much law enforcement access to this kind of data was only made possible through changes to the Telecommunications Act and the Telecommunications Interception and Access Act in 2007, in the wake of global security concerns around terrorism that extended after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US in 2001.

    “In May 2013 the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor concluded that several of the 80 hastily made changes to Australian law after the events of September 11 were not effective, appropriate or necessary,” the Greens Senator said this week. “The scope and reach of the laws were unprecedented, and included extraordinary powers of surveillance, detention and restriction and censorship on speech.”

    “Given that Australia’s security agencies and police forces have been deployed against targets that fall well beyond threats to national security such as climate change demonstrators, the occupy movement, anti-whaling campaigners and supporters of the WikiLeaks publishing organization, the lines between terrorism, civil disobedience and healthy dissent are being routinely blurred.”

    The Australian Law Reform Commission has also recommended that the Telecommunications Interception and Access Act be reviewed in its entirety, but the Government has not yet committed to meeting this recommendation.

    What else would you expect an Attorney-General to say on this issue? Labor or Liberal, no matter which politician it is, every Federal Attorney-General Australia has had in recent times has appeared to be acting highly in concert with the wishes of law enforcement agencies and their department, rather than acting as a check and balance on the bureaucrats and law enforcement officers. Australia’s politicians are supposed to be representatives of the people. But increasingly, when those politicians become attorney-generals, they tend to act more and more as the representatives of the police and intelligence officers who enforce Australia’s laws, and the bureaucrats who seem to write them. Great.

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    1. Brendan
      Posted 20/06/2013 at 3:00 pm | Permalink |

      Politicians today haven’t been voted in; they’re a consequence of voting against. Australians punish politicians at the polls.

      The populists win, everyone else loses. This bill never had a chance, but then I tend to believe this was more to make a point, than to legislate change.

      MSM are only interested in intrigue and conflict; everything else is ignored.

    2. Posted 20/06/2013 at 3:24 pm | Permalink |

      “Requiring a warrant to conduct initial investigations to identify suspects, or to exclude innocent persons, through the use of telecommunications data would be much more onerous and more time consuming, delaying agencies from obtaining warrants to access telecommunications content for an investigation. Under the Bill a warrant would be needed to identify telecommunications data that would then be used to obtain a warrant to access the content of the communications.”

      If I am reading that right, what they’re saying is they want to be able to access all the data without a warrant to prove that a criminal activity has occurred, and then use that information to get a warrant to make it admissible in court? Sound about right?

      • Tinman_au
        Posted 20/06/2013 at 5:29 pm | Permalink |


        Effectively, they want to data mine to find criminal behaviour, not gather “evidence” to prove a criminal offence was committed…

        Welcome to the world of Minority Report.

    3. Karl
      Posted 20/06/2013 at 4:12 pm | Permalink |

      What it needs is to be rejected in court. I could be wrong but I’m pretty sure it’s well established that you can’t have your private stuff examined without a warrant no matter what some politician says.

      • Tinman_au
        Posted 20/06/2013 at 5:31 pm | Permalink |

        IANAL, but I think it’d have to be in the constitution to be able to beat legislation.

    4. Tinman_au
      Posted 20/06/2013 at 5:33 pm | Permalink |

      Why is it our Opposition only opposes the good stuff, and backs crap like this to the hilt :/

      Until 51% of Australians learn to vote outside what “mum and dad” did, we’ll be consigned to this two party BS…

      • Duke
        Posted 21/06/2013 at 12:35 pm | Permalink |

        Don’t blame Mum and Dad, they were the ones who marhed in the streets. Except for a select minority the current younger generation wouldn’t know a political policy from their arse, and would be too busy sexting that to their equally gnat like attention span possessing friends…

        • RocK_M
          Posted 24/06/2013 at 3:51 pm | Permalink |


          A sad sad fact of life =(

    5. Sputnik
      Posted 20/06/2013 at 6:04 pm | Permalink |

      Told you it would be voted down.

      Despite publicly being concerned about citizens privacy, we see typical, “protect the establishment” type of behavior from both sides of Government.

      Can we have a revolution or something?

    6. TrevorX
      Posted 20/06/2013 at 7:46 pm | Permalink |

      Boo hoo. It would make things take longer? It will be more onerous? It will take more effort? F*#@ing GOOD! There should be some effort involved in obtaining private communications data. There should be oversight and only court granted authorisation. To do anything else is to thumb your nose at the very idea of privacy. What’s the point in having a privacy act if you then fundamentally undermine it by providing full access to all your private communications to anyone in law enforcement who is even casually interested? It makes a mockery of the very concept of privacy.

      The problem is government and law enforcement are coming at this from the position they have today, where all this information is at their fingertips with no checks or balances. What needs to be done is to redesign the law from the ground up with reasonable protections for citizens. Protecting the privacy of conversations, telephone calls, emails and other forms of private communication taking place between individuals in a private setting is such an obviously fundamental right in a democracy it is simply insane that we find ourselves in this situation. Globally.

      Government would have us believe we need these laws to protect us from terrorists and other criminals. Personally I see far more ‘threat’ and danger to our society from government and law enforcement as long as this system of casual and endemic abuse of our privacy is in place.

      • BuildFTTP
        Posted 22/06/2013 at 3:08 am | Permalink |

        +1. I too find the argument flawed. Just because it gets the job done quickly doesn’t mean it is good and just. If they continue their logic that due process isn’t important and only the speed at which results are achieved with no regard for the consequences, why not just remove trials? But innocent people might get put in prison from time to time you say? These are matters of national security and we can trust our law enforcement and intellegence agencies to not fuck it up, they are impervious to making mistakes or being corrupt. Criminals would be put in jail at records speeds with maxium efficency and we can all sleep safe at night.

    7. Simon Shaw
      Posted 21/06/2013 at 12:41 am | Permalink |

      Whose to say the USA isn’t also trawling the data for corporate data, trade secrets, quotes on large infrastructure projects etc?

    8. Abel Adamski
      Posted 23/06/2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink |

      Even OUR own Natonal Law enforcement and Spooks seem to have a agenda – Remember the political furore and Quetion Time antics and even back to Haneed


      And it is getting worse


      I truly pity our children and grandchildren

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